A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Two titans of ambient noise come together to show what’s possible with the genre on this new collab for Important Records
Remix albums offer an opportunity to both showcase the breadth of a genre as well as the personalities and styles of each participant. its like some readymade art challenge where each contestants given the same materials and told to make something unique. Some might make a ballgown. Others might make a dirigible. Still others might construct a weapon of mass destruction.
While the metaphor stops a bit short on this collaboration between Arcane Device and Merzbow, as they’re not working with the exact same source material, these two monumentally long sonic meditations showcase two very different sides of noise music, hinting at two very different philosophies.
these two monumentally long sonic meditations showcase two very different sides of noise music, hinting at two very different philosophies.
Instead of working with a pool of sonic readymades, each artist’s contribution is a remix of the other artist’s work. It’s truly a masterclass in sound art and the wide range of possible approaches to making noise and ambient music.
Merzbow & Arcane Device kicks off with a nearly half-hour long sonic meditation from Arcane Device, the long-standing ambient project of David Lee Myers of Pulsewidth Records. Arcane Device is best-known for creating Feedback Music, where noisemaking apparati are hooked up and left to murmur amongst themselves, sounding somewhere between Nurse With Wound’s Soliloquy For Lilith, the analog dark ambient of Philip Jeck, or the patinaed reverie of William Basinski. Arcane Device’s offering, “Arcane Device Mixes Merzbow”, is the sound of machines left to their own devices. Instead, it feels like field recordings of some dream sequence through some Lynchian post-industrial dreamscape. It’s almost tranquil – pretty even!
Not so with Merzbow’s offering, “Merzbow Mixes Arcane Device”, which is a decidedly noisier affair. If Arcane Device’s murmurations are the sound of some sepulchral art installation, Merzbow’s contribution would be the road construction happening outside. Jackhammers meet klaxons meet balloon animal oscillators meet bandsawtooth waves before belching out its innards into an 8-bit arcade.
Jackhammers meet klaxons meet balloon animal oscillators meet bandsawtooth waves before belching out its innards into an 8-bit arcade.
These two halves feel like a summation of Masami Akita’s career as well as some of the manifold manifestations of noise music. Arcane Device’s opening feels more in-line with Merzbow’s earliest recordings, many of which are collected on the Collections series compiled in the Merzbox, feeling like a field recording of some assemblage.
Masami Akita’s contribution feels more directed, on the other hand, coming across as a pure harsh noise performance – one that’s been honed by decades of performance and hundreds of releases.
It always feels a bit disingenuous to rank the quality of Noise Music, as it seems antithetical to the genre and its goals. It seems equally short-sighted to just write Merzbow & Arcane Device as “another noise album,” though, which seems dismissive and equally understanding of the form. It’s like the detractors who used to disparage Free Jazz, simply shrugging “anyone can do that.” Over the span of decades, Free Jazz itself developed its own language, its own lexicon and idiom. Writing off the tectonic slabs of feedback and piercing, laser-like oscillators on display would be like dismissing the wraithlike shrieking of Albert Ayler, the complex harmonies of Ornette Coleman, or the maximalist sheets of sound of John Coltrane.
It’s a busy and exciting season for Merzbow over at Important Records. A reissue of 2002’s Merzbeat (a perennial favourite here at Forestpunk) as is 1983’s Material Action so stay on the lookout for those and expect to hear more about them here once they drop.
Every Monday we strive to post something to do with the works of Masami Akita, truly one of the most influential, prolific, and legendary noise musicians and theoreticians who’s ever lived.
Got a particular favourite Merzbow release you’d like to see us weigh in on? A theme of Merzbow’s sound art and politics you’d like us to wax philosophical about? Let us know in the comments or get in touch on Twitter.